Creative Nonfiction: Irish Wake Triptych by Aileen Hunt

Milltown, April – December

I remain

My dear children,

Write to us at all times and tell how you are. To hear from you is our life and joy.

Remember us to every one of the family. Do not forget those whom we never yet saw, Jeffrey’s wife, yours, and her babe, young James.

You are the best children that ever left this country. Those who never saw you or knew you are thankful for the kindness you have shown us. I can never forget ye as long as I live.

Your mother and I pray for you daily. She joins with me to send all and every one of our children our love and blessing. Do not forget Con and Tom’s wives whom we deem our children also.

Your brother Michael left Easter Monday to sail for America. I need say nothing about John’s death.

Write to us without delay. We can enjoy no pleasure equal to that of hearing from you. I send you all my blessing,

and remain, affectionately,

Your father,

James Prendergast

Compiled from letters written by James Prendergast in 1847 to his children, recently emigrated to Boston.  

Irish Wake

The day my daughter told me she was moving to America, my heart dropped—just as my own mother’s heart must have dropped when I told her the same thing thirty years ago.

“It’s just for a year or two,” my daughter said, seeing my stricken face. But I’d offered my mother the same placebo and hadn’t returned for twelve years. The thought of my daughter so far from home and for so long was unbearable.

But we bear the unbearable for our children every day, so I tried to be cheerful at Dublin airport. She was travelling with her boyfriend—I knew he’d look after her. They were college graduates – they’d get good jobs. And they both had supportive families if things went wrong. It was all just a big adventure, really.

And maybe I’d have got out of there without collapsing if I hadn’t caught the eye of her boyfriend’s father, a burly, no-nonsense lawyer I’d just been introduced to, who’s sharp lip was quivering beneath his grey moustache. We sobbed together in the concourse, while our emigrant children sauntered to the departure gate, turning to flash a final smile before disappearing through the automatic doors.

Of course, they texted us from the runway, posted photos mid Atlantic, phoned when they touched down in New York, their “emigration” as different from mine as mine was from those who took the coffin ships to Grosse-Île in the 19th century. Maybe emigration isn’t even the right word anymore.

In three years, we’ve been over to see them four times, and they’ve been home twice. We’re in constant communication. If they need anything, or I just want to surprise my daughter with a gift, I order on Amazon and have it delivered in hours.

Sometimes, I wonder if my daughter’s missing out on the true experience of being away from home, but mostly I’m just relieved she’s not sitting on a couch in Cincinnati waiting for her one phone call a week from Ireland, or worse, guilt-wracked and lonely, waiting for a letter that never finds her.

Missing Friends:  advertisements from the Boston Pilot, 1847


Anyone knowing anything of Dennis Mccarthy, late of Killmichael, County Cork, who sailed from Liverpool on the 1st of last May, and left his wife, Ellen Ahearn, in Quarantine near Quebec, in June.  She is now in Troy, N. Y., and wishes to know his whereabouts.  Any information respecting him will be thankfully received by addressing a line to Ellen McCarthy, care of Stephen Duffy, Troy, New York.

Of John Quilman, late of the parish of Inch, County Tipperary, who sailed from Waterford with his family last April.  His daughter, Mary Harrington, wishes him to know that her husband, James Harrington, died on their passage to this country; also her two children since. She is now in Troy and wishes to know where her father is.  Any information respecting him will be thankfully received by Mary Harrington, care of S. Duffy, or Mrs. Daly, Fifth street, Troy, New York.

Aileen Hunt is an Irish writer of lyric essays and creative nonfiction. Her work has been published in various online and print journals including Hippocampus, Cleaver Magazine, Sweet, Slag Glass City, and Entropy. You can find her at and @HuntAileen.

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